Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Kevin’s Door: Kevin DeYoung and Gay Exclusion in the Kingdom of God

Kevin DeYoung of Gospel Coalition fame has recently published a small book entitled, “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?” Russell Moore, current head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, states on the back cover of DeYoung’s book “Every Christian should read this book.”

After reading DeYoung’s book I cannot say I share Moore’s enthusiasm. Although the book does give one a simplistic overview of the Conservative stance on same sex relations and exclusion of sexually active Gays from inclusion in the Kingdom of God, it is disappointedly lacking in sound Biblical exegesis.

DeYoung criticizes Progressives (Liberals) for building their arguments on silence (Jesus does not directly address it), yet, like Preston Sprinkle in his recent book, “A People to be Loved,” bases a great deal of his argument on the assumption that egalitarian same sex relations had to have been known to Paul and Jesus therefore Jesus did not have to mention homosexuality directly in his condemnation of pornea (fornication). Likewise, Paul must have known about egalitarian same sex as well, therefore his condemnation must have included all types of SS sexual behavior. This assumption is based itself to a large degree on silence.

Starting off, DeYoung bases his argument on the Levitical Holiness Code of the Old Testament: Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 “you shall not lie with a male as with a woman.” Two Greek words are used in the Septuagint translation: arsenos and koiten. Paul combines the two separate words to coin a new phrase used in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy literally meaning bedders of men.

First off, DeYoung, in tying Paul closely to Levitical Law, reflects a general trend among conservative Christians of creating a hybrid of Mosaic Law and Gospel Grace. Despite Paul’s general rejection of The Law in favor of the inward working of the Holy Spirit, conservatives like DeYoung seem honor bound to cherry pick favorite verses from the Pentateuch to point out the sins of others.

Did Paul, in addressing the church at Rome, have all same sex relations in mind, as DeYoung declares, or was he addressing a unique situation? Curiously absent from both DeYoung’s and Sprinkle’s assessment of Romans 1 is the inclusion of verses 29-37. In these verses Paul further clarifies the character of the of the men and women who “committed shameless acts” (v.27) and were therefore “worthy of death” (v. 32) and anchors the entire passage into a unique period of Roman history.

The omission, I am sure, is intentional, as it weakens both Preston’s and DeYoung’s argument considerably. Verses 29-37:
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (ESV)

Likewise, the switch to the vocative that Paul uses beginning in Romans chapter 2 is not discussed, which is odd as the whole context of chapter 1 hinges on Paul’s condemnation of those who pride themselves on not sharing in the Roman licentiousness. Something conservatives should take note of: “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” Some scholars see Romans 1:18-32 as evidence of an early Jewish polemic against Gentiles rather than Paul’s own thoughts. (1)

Paul’s description reveals a justifiable, deep revulsion of what we know of Roman sexual practices. His extreme indictment would seem out of place leveled against today’s Gay Christians or those in the LGBTQ community trying to live loving, committed lives in a society that has been historically hostile towards them. If Paul was indeed including loving committed SS relations, as DeYoung states, then we have a problem with perjury, or bearing false witness.

Likewise, in a few other passages, Paul includes SS activity placed among a list of other sins, but there is no indication that he has now switched gears to talk about committed “Gay” relations. Indeed, the severity of some of the sins, slave sellers, liars, murderers, etc., indicates he still has the same individuals in mind as described in Romans 1.

What the Religious Right, Preston Sprinkle and Kevin DeYoung have attempted to do is take a unique circumstance out of its historical context and make a universal application that transcends time and place. Did Paul have a personal aversion to committed SS relations? Since we have no written record from him addressing that, we simply do not know. What I have seen time and time again is the Right basing their assessment of homosexual behavior on the belief that Paul’s description in Romans 1:29-37 accurately describes Gays today. Hence the references to “abomination” by luminaries of the Right like Falwell and Robertson, and hate groups such as Westboro Baptist and their “God Hates Fags” signs.

Like DeYoung, in “A People to be Loved,” Preston Sprinkle has presented Evangelicals with a roadmap to continue to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, yet feel better about themselves in the process. Discrimination without guilt, stone throwing but with softer words of condemnation. Sprinkle covers no new ground in this book, which was disappointing.

While repeatedly admitting the church’s failure to be loving towards Gays, Sprinkle fails to admit the underlying presuppositions about Scripture that plague Neo-Fundamentalists and bog them down in 19th century attitudes about the relationships of God and man. His is not a Cruciform theology, but one bound to an inerrant, infallible Bible. The unspoken and taken for granted assumption is that God has spoken definitively, once and for all time, through Scripture, how mankind is to structure itself socially. What traditional marriage proponents, like Sprinkle have given us is first century marital codes filtered through Western 19th century Victorian standards of propriety.

I hope to address in a future post the underlying hermeneutical problems of fundamentalism and it’s odd blending of a wrathful God and a loving God. The failure to consistently interpret the God of the OT through the lens of Christ continually hamstrings conservatives from worshipping a truly “Christlike God.” (2) rather than the Gospel being “good news” it ends up being an alternate legal system replacing the Law of the OT.

(1) http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2013/10/romans-126-27-a-clobber-passage-that-should-lose-its-wallop/
(2) See Bradley Jersak, “A More Christlike God, a More Beautiful Gospel,” and Gregory A. Boyd, “Crucifixion of the Warrior God.”

Defining Evangelicalism: Fences or Faithfullness

I am currently reading Roger E. Olson’s ‘Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology.’(1) It is an excellent book, tying together the various postconservatives evangelical theologians and showing how they differ from conservative evangelicals. Having grown up in a Pentecostal evangelical church I was always aware that there was a certain uneasy alliance between the dominant Calvinism and “fringe” groups like Pentecostals and other Arminian denominations. The tension between the majority evangelicals and minority voices within it have been at odds for a long time. Which brings me to Olson’s book.

Olson identifies a number of beliefs that postconservatives find problematic with the conservative wing of evangelicalism. They find the basic epistemology of conservatism lacking, that is, the reliance on inerrant original documents and the reduction of revelation to propositional truths, tending “to place too much emphasis and value on facts; authentic Christianity is too often equated with correct grasp of information. That is, conservative evangelicals, in varying degrees and with some exceptions, underscore and highlight the ‘propositional’ nature of revelation and the ‘cognitive’ aspects of Christian discipleship. When attempting to determine whether a person or group is Christian, they often turn to examination of doctrinal beliefs.”(2)

While many conservatives such as Millard Erickson agree that the gospel message must be contemporized to meet new generations, the general consensus among them is that any new understanding of what are viewed as ‘timeless biblical truths’ leads to pluralism and relativism.(3) For D. A. Carson his major problem with the budding Emerging Church movement is that he sees it as placing ‘experience’ above biblical revelation: “Truth itself, ‘rightly understood,’ may correct experience, but not the other way around.”(4) Typical, however, of conservatives, the “truth” of biblical doctrine is as traditionally interpreted by conservatives. By ‘experience’ conservatives are basically talking about a distrust of claims of personal ‘relationships to Christ,’ especially if they don’t line up with traditional truth claims. This is one reason the work of the Holy Spirit seems to take a back seat to the propositional nature of Scripture amongst hardline conservatives.

One characteristic of conservatives listed by Olson stuck out recently for me as being especially true of conservatives: that of ‘fence building.’ As I have briefly shown above, biblical ‘truths,’ as defined by conservatives, becomes the yardstick for determining authentic Christianity. Where did the interpretation and codification of these truths come from?, the fundamentalism of the Old Princeton School of Theology. Contemporary conservatives still appeal to the Enlightenment epistemology of foundational truth claims. Without getting into the problems of both modernism, which conservatives are influenced by, and postmodernism, which postconservatives are influenced by, I find that the inevitable result of attempting to build a universal system of absolute truths is that the creators of such a system become too attached to their system, in a sense becoming prisoners to their own status quo. Once a ‘truth’ is declared ‘absolute,’ questioning of it becomes heresy. Walls go up to delineate Orthodoxy, to keep the faithful in and the unfaithful out.

Besides keeping people out, a lack of humility and understanding of our human limitations, as well as a loathing to question assumed universal truths creates a situation where reform becomes very difficult. As Olson puts it in ‘Reformed and Always Reforming:’ “The essence of conservatism in theology is a determined—if often implicit and unacknowledged—adherence to tradition. It is the establishment of a magisterium, whether formal or informal, that exercises prior restraint over the critical and constructive tasks of theology. Very few evangelical theologians admit that they recognize or follow such a magisterium and most deny it. But their conservatism shows in their tendency to slam down any and every new proposal for revisioning Christian doctrine by appeal to what has always been believed by Christians generally or by what evangelicals have traditionally believed.”(5)

This was made very clear recently when Eugene Peterson, in an interview, initially supported Gay marriage.(6) As a result of the subsequent firestorm and the threat of his ‘The Message Bible’ and devotional books being pulled from Christian bookstore shelves, he recanted his statement.(7) This seems to be the all-to-common conservative reaction to any attempt to reassess conservative understandings of church teaching; panic mode sets in, the wagons are drawn in a circle and the offending party is essentially burned at the stake. Lifetime friends sever relations, speaking engagements and book deals cancelled and teaching positions ended. As the Christian ethicist David Gushee recently remarked: “Eugene Peterson discovered painfully that the evangelical establishment will immediately seek to destroy anyone who breaks with their understanding of orthodoxy on LGBTQ issues. Nothing he did before mattered. Nothing else he believes mattered. The guns were turned on him, posthaste, in a choreography of rejection as public and painful as possible. This has happened so many times before that the real wonder of events last week was that Rev. Peterson somehow did not anticipate that it would happen to him.”(8)

This conservative knee-jerk reaction is not a sign of a healthy church. It stifles what Derek Flood calls ‘faithful questioning’ of Scripture.(9) Olson, in rebutting the 1989 Evangelical Affirmations conference that attempted to establish adherence to a basic doctrinal structure, says: “This way of identifying who is an evangelical theologian and what justifies calling a theology evangelical is problematic in that it closes the door to reform of the doctrinal structure and adds an extrabiblical content to the canon of divine revelation…How is continuing reform of evangelical faith and life possible if being evangelical requires firm adherence to a humanly devised cognitive structure of doctrinal content? That is, if being evangelical necessarily includes being orthodox, how can orthodoxy itself be reformed by evangelicals?”(10)

Olson and other postconservative evangelicals have not given up hopes of having meaningful dialogue with conservatives over their differences, but like David Gushee, I have my doubts. Partly because postconservatives are, in large, barely distinguishable from progressive Christians, who are viewed as ‘liberals’ by most conservatives. Although being labeled a ‘fundamentalist’ is a badge few conservatives would apply to themselves, the theology espoused is virtually the same.

 

1. https://www.amazon.com/Reformed-Always-Reforming-Postconservative-Evangelical/dp/0801031699/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1500771317&sr=8-1&keywords=reformed+and+always+reforming
2. Roger E. Olson, ‘Reformed and Always Reforming,’ p. 67.
3. Ibid., pp. 70-71.
4. D. A. Carson, ‘Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church,’ p. 219.
5. Olson, p. 17.
6. http://religionnews.com/2017/07/12/best-selling-author-eugene-peterson-changes-his-mind-on-gay-marriage/
7. http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/july/eugene-peterson-actually-does-not-support-gay-marriage.html
8. http://religionnews.com/2017/07/17/lgbtq-equality-evangelical-rejection/
9. https://www.amazon.com/Disarming-Scripture-Cherry-Picking-Violence-Loving-Conservatives/dp/0692307265
10. Olson, p. 39.

Human Sexuality and Corporate Worship: Just the Tip of the Iceberg

What does human sexuality or sexual preference have to do with church worship services you might ask. But this is exactly the question Hillsong faced 2 years ago. There were a couple of talented Christian men leading worship at the New York campus. When it came out that the two were “courting” each other, all Evangelical hell broke lose. Outrage, condemnation and questioning of the denominations commitment to Christian principals. In other words, everything that conservative Christians seem to do best.

This is from an older Sojourner’s post that I contributed a number of comments to and interacted with some pretty upset Christians.

https://sojo.net/articles/why-gay-couple-barred-leading-worship-will-keep-singing-hillsong-church

The problems that conservative American-flavored Christianity faces in our post-modern society revolve around the conservative conflict with pluralism, diversity, inclusivity, freedom of individual expression and a world view that rejects legalism. The handwringing over SSM and inclusion of our Gay and Queer friends and neighbors incorporates all of these conflicts.

Predictably, the comments used in the post against SS relationships fall under the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, comparisons to drunkenness, bestiality, incest and an appeal to God’s “moral law.”
The following excerpts from the Sojourner’s post’s comments illustrates this.

Cindy: “You do not know your Bible. Please go read it. GOD is very, very clear on this. It’s an abomination unto him. He destroyed the cities Sodom and Gomorrah because of its practice and other evil deeds. The men in that city were actually going to gang rape the Angels that were sent to tell Lot to get the heck out of there! Of course you can do the research yourself to find it throughout the Bible where it goes against the very nature, essence, Word, and obedience of GOD.”

Me: “Cindy, where in the Bible does it say S & G were destroyed because of homosexuality? Look as hard as you like, the Bible simply does not make that claim. The view that these cities were destroyed because of a bunch of Gay men is a presupposition first promulgated by the Western (Catholic) church and is not supported in Scripture. The men of those cities broke ancient rules concerning hospitality of strangers/foreigners in one’s town and the Bible clearly states as much (Ezekiel 16:48-50), as well as adultery and lies (Jeremiah 23:14, 49:17-18, 50:39-40, Lamentations 4:6) and in general, shameless sinning (Isaiah 1:9-10, 3:9, 13:19-22). Note Isaiah is comparing Babylon to S & G for sin in general, no mention of same sex interaction.

One must look at the socio-political situation in those cities at the time Lot and his wife and two virgin daughters moved into Sodom. In general the various cites in the plains were aligned with various different kings, who were at odds with each other. Things were dangerous and hostile. At one point S & G were taken captive as spoils of war and treated brutally. Then the tide turned and they won their freedom again. So when the angels arrived in Sodom, the men of the town did not recognize them as being on their side and assumed they were enemies. In ancient Semitic times what you often did with your enemies was rape them, not for sexual pleasure, but to show dominance, to disgrace them by treating them as a woman.

Note too, that Jesus describes the sins of towns that treated the disciples poorly as greater than the sins of S & G (Matthew 10:1-15, Luke 10:1-12), no mention of SS interaction but those towns rejection of the Gospel. Now, if you want to make it about homosexual behavior you will not find support in early Jewish thought but can find support within the Quran, which ties it to homosexual rape in particular.

It is curious, that within Jewish culture, where there were so many constraints on sexual behavior that they “missed” an opportunity to clearly define S & G’s sins as sexual, but did not.”

Christian: “You sound like a Democrat…” (honestly, he got me on that one)…”What does Christ say???” He then produces a list of “sins” from the Old Testament, claiming because Jesus and the Father are “one,” the list is Jesus’s list!

Me: “Christian, I am not quite sure why that is your name as you are obviously Jewish. You have quoted exclusively from Levitical Law. As a Gentile Christian I never was, nor will be under those laws. They were a covenant between YHWH and the Jews, read the Pauline letters to get a better grasp of this Kingdom truth. If you are Christian, then it seems to me that you have erroneously created a new set of Laws to follow, borrowing heavily from the old ones. Kingdom living under the New Covenant is not based on legalism but on a relationship with God built on love, not rule keeping. Now, if you want to understand SS relationships from a Christian standpoint you really need to keep to the New Testament.

Paul talks about SS relations in a few passages, but only in Romans does he go into detailed description about who these people are who engage in SS activities. He starts by clearly addressing Pagan Rome and its idolatry v. 18-23, God delivered them over to sexual impurity v. 24-15 (Roman orgies come to mind). Next Paul describes a downward spiral that includes SS activities v. 26-27. But, watch closely. Verses 28-32 describe who these people are. They do not acknowledge God, filled with unrighteousness, greed, evil, wickedness, envy, murder, quarrels, deceit and malice. Gossipers.slanderers, arrogant, proud, inventors of evil, unloving,etc..

Now if you can make a blanket accusation that all Gays are these things then you would be guilty of breaking the 9th commandment, bearing false witness. Modern day Gays are quite normal in most regards so the accusation of Paul’s does not fit. He was addressing a particular group of people at a particular time who were behaving quite badly. The problem for conservatives is that they take a specific situation that had specific people in mind, then generalize it to apply to all Gay people, regardless of their decency. We have seen that done repeatedly by conservative leadership such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. This is shameless slander on their part, and quite unchristian.

But Paul doesn’t end there. Chapter 1 was setting the stage for the following chapters where he lambasts the Jews and their legalism and self righteousness. Understand that Paul makes no distinction between sexual orgies and religious self righteousness! In Paul’s thinking, both are equally displeasing to God. In fact, chapter 1 is not even his main point! Legalistic, religious self righteousness is, and he goes to some length to discuss it. The fact that so many conservatives stop with the passage on SS activity, just underscores my belief that they fail to understand that chapter 2 is actually addressing them!

Hopefully I have given you a new perspective to ponder. God bless.”

Joe: “So, are you saying that Paul is saying that homosexuality is sin as well as the other sins that he mentions. The people who condemn the homosexuals are also addressed as being sinners themselves. It just proofs the point, doesn’t it? Homosexuality is sin and unless you repent from it, including all the other sinners, and follow Christ as Master and Lord they will ALL die and burn in hell forever.
The hypocrite included. So, we are in agreement, liars must repent, receive Christ as Lord and allow Him to deliver you from lying/stealing/adultery et.
There is no such thing as a Christian murderer, liar, adulterer et. “Go and sin NO MORE”.”

Me: “Joe, I think you’re not getting my point. Paul is describing a particular bunch of people, involved in very bad specific behaviors that don’t fit today’s LGBTQ community. What the church has been guilty of over the centuries, is taking a specific incident in the Bible directed at a particular group of people at that time and generalizing it to apply to different people than it was originally intended to describe. The average Gay person simply does not fit the description in Romans 1, although some conservative leadership attempts to do so.

What conservatives like Preston Sprinkle and Kevin DeYoung have attempted to do is acknowledge the extreme perversion and abusive sexual activities involving the orgies, young boys and slaves, but attempt to throw committed, loving SS relations into the mix as well, because Paul must have known about them and therefore have had them in mind too. Besides being conjecture, thus would not fit the extremely negative description Paul gives of these people. They do this with Jesus as well, only somehow have turned his silence on the issue into a condemnation of Gays!

But bear in mind, as I have pointed out, the purpose of Romans 1-3 is not to point out homosexuality as bad. Paul used the corruption and degradation of Rome, well known to his readers, to criticize the legalistic, unloving behavior of the conservative religious people of his day, something that, ironically, seems to be totally lost on Evangelicals in their dealings with Gays.”

(Note: In my use of Romans 1 I have followed the traditional view that it is Paul speaking. More recent scholarship questions that view and sees the 1:18-32 as Paul quoting a popular Jewish polemic against Roman culture which he then turns into criticism of the Jewish religious leadership for their lack of charity and their self righteousness. I am leaning towards that understanding now because of the curious change of the Greek grammar between the first and second chapters, going from third person to second person use of pronouns.)

A few concluding thoughts. I keep running into Christians who compare the loving consensual relationship between two same sex adults as equal to bestiality, incest or alcoholism. Why do Christians make this comparison? They are not the same, are they? But in doing so, it makes the condemnation of a loving relationship somehow more justifiable, doesn’t it? It’s really a straw argument used to justify hatred for others who are different.

The Bible as a book of rules to follow for all time, (it’s actually many books by different authors written to different cultural circumstances). When Christians start with the assumption that the Bible is a “book” written by God that lists a number of things to do or not do to garner God’s favor one is thinking as a primitive, never quite sure what side of the scale they are on. So the task becomes to determine that you are on God’s good side, then condemn everyone else as being on His bad side. The easiest way to do this is follow the example of the Jews: create laws that divide the sheep from the goats. It is an outgrowth of tribalism, not the inclusive nature of the Gospel and is counter active to the universal trajectory of Scripture in general.

Finally, and Southern Baptists in particular hate this argument, the example of slavery and the Bible. The Bible permits slavery in both the OT and the NT. The SB denomination was created when the Baptist denomination sought to condemn slavery. SBs still have a hard time facing racial bigotry and hatred as illustrated by the difficulty recently coming to a consensus disavowing the Alt-Right. (1) Was the church wrong about slavery? The answer is apparently, yes. What Christians find harder to admit, is that the Bible was wrong about slavery. “Wait, what? No, we simply interpreted the Bible wrongly. The Bible can’t be wrong, it’s God’s Word.” No. The Bible is clear. There is nothing inherently wrong with owning another human. It’s actually more clear about this issue than that of SS relations. So the problem arises, what do you do with scripture that conflicts with Christ’s teaching? That conflicts with what we know about the love of God? We grapple with Scripture, seeking to interpret and apply it in a manner that fits the over-all trajectory of Scripture. This is what the church ultimately did with slavery and now needs to do with SS relations.

(1) http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/14/politics/southern-baptist-convention-alt-right/index.html

Loving Heavenly Father or, Abusive Parent?

Well, it’s happened again. Another one of those awkward, disturbing interactions with a “Bible-believing” Christian about “the wicked.” You know the the type of conversation where the believer has memorized snippets of KJV bible verses about the conscious eternal torment of those who “reject Christ.” A Christian friend at work knew I had just finished reading “Raising Hell” by Julie Ferwerda, and that in the book she raises questions about the traditional church teaching on hell. He responded with a barrage of verses fired off at me devoid of context and based on a bad English translation of the original languages.

I say disturbing, because, what kind of a person memorizes scripture verses that describe the torture of human beings by a “loving” God? And the smile on his face as he recounted the torment of the rich man in Luke 16 and the Lake of Fire in Revelation , was chilling. My friend is a wonderful, generous man who would not hurt anyone, but this type of belief about our Heavenly Father reveals a strange dichotomy of God’s Nature found among traditional Catholic and Protestant teaching on the afterlife.

On the one hand, the majority of American Christians generally portray God in glowing terms referring to His perfect love for us, even though we don’t deserve it. It is the reason He sent His son Jesus. But they are quick to tell you about God’s dark side. Traditionalists usually portray God in absolute terms, absolutely just, good, wise, etc., His Omni-qualities. Although, God so loved the world He sent His Son, and He is not willing that any should perish (John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9), there is still a limit to His Love it seems. God’s Love is not a limitless love. Although Jesus admonishes us to love our enemies, God the Father is not so willing. As one might surmise, this creates a schism in the Father-Son relationship, especially when the dominant Orthodox atonement theory is penal substitutionary atonement, …that Jesus’s death was to appease God’s Wrath toward us.

That God’s general inclination is to destroy the majority of mankind is a dominant theme among conservative Christians. Generally, among conservative Protestants, atonement is either limited to the “elect,” (Calvinism), or sufficient for all, but effective only for those who “receive” it, (Arminianism). A rather crass way to explain this “gospel” is that God will torture you unless you accept His Love, or, …He has already chosen you before hand to love Him, you have no real choice. This should raise flags with anyone who understands the meaning of love. Instead of a patient lover who pursues us, persuades us, we have a psychotic lover who threatens us, who is so needy for attention and worship that He forces us to worship Him, (Calvinism), or gives us an offer we dare not refuse, lest He torture us day and night, (Arminianism).

This begs the question, if our love for God is so coerced, is it a genuine loving relationship? If our love for God only stems from those He has pre-selected, and enabled, is it true love? From a psychological standpoint, it would seem not. Still, the escape from God’s Wrath is foundational to understanding conservative evangelistic efforts. I suspect that part of the reason conservatives paint such a bleak picture of mankind outside of the conservative church is to justify a God that would not just destroy “the wicked,” but keep them supernaturally alive so they can be tormented for eternity. Also, I suspect, it relieves some of the guilt associated with failing to tell everyone to repent, or they will go to hell.

But the Bible does teach us of consequences associated with our life choices. The question is: is the “torment” mentioned in the NT retributive or restorative? Using the analogy of parental discipline we have the technique of “timeouts” for young children or the method of corporal punishment. Both are painful, one psychologically, the other, physically. True to the traditional church understanding of God’s parental skills, James Dobson admonishes Christians to “Dare to Discipline” their children by beating them with a paddle or switch, a common theme among neo-fundamentalists. When various states in the US began passing laws to thwart child abuse, Christians were outraged at the thought of the government meddling in parental matters. But the sad fact is that Proverbs 22 has been used to justify severe child abuse, leaving permanent scars, both physical and emotional.

On the other hand, the disciplinary technique of timeout by removing a child from play, sitting them in a corner for ten minutes to “think about what they did wrong” seems like “torture” to a young child. They “stew in their own juices,” the unpleasantness is their own doing, not the parent’s. But they have time to reflect on their rebelliousness or bad behavior and develop understanding of right and wrong. Although viewing the experience of the “unsaved” in the afterlife as a “timeout” may seem a bit simplistic or odd, essentially this is how the early church viewed the afterlife, at least until the Roman, Latin speaking church twisted the Biblical understanding of hell into a monstrous affair of eternal torture by God of His enemies.

Because the Bible assures us that God will restore all creation (1), the majority of the early church believed in a form of universal reconciliation, the popularity of which was not surpassed until after the Roman branch became the state church in the West. Coincidently, as Christians in the West were no longer persecuted, the church’s methods of spreading the Gospel became more coercive and militaristic. It was in this atmosphere of power and politics that eternal torment in hell became the popular teaching of the church to maintain control over the masses. Not only did the church control a person’s life in this age, but held the keys to eternal life the age to come.

But doesn’t God punish sinners? I ask you, what kind of person would eternally torment an individual for a wrong choice made within the narrow window of opportunity in this life? What about all the individuals not fortunate enough to be born in western societies? Those that have suffered hell on earth, but never heard of Jesus? St. Augustine thought unbaptized children went to hell! Ridiculous you say, but look at what Mark Driscoll had to say about his own stillborn child. He did not know if he went to heaven or hell! (2) It is this coercive, vindictive and cruel view of God that many individuals today find so offensive and turns them off to Christianity.

Unfortunately for the western church, most individuals know these days, that torture under any circumstances is wrong. We have laws guarding against it’s use. During the church’s rise to power during the Holy Roman Empire, the church used violence, the sword, burning at the stake, the Spanish Inquisition, and similar violence following the Protestant Reformation. All because of a misunderstanding of how the Kingdom of God operates, how it is to be spread. But fortunately for all of us, God does not work that way.

So why do Christians still cling to a retributive, violent God? I will attempt to answer that in my next post.

God bless.
(1) Genesis 12:3, 2 Sam. 14:14, Psalm 22:27-29, Psalm 65:2, Isaiah 25:6-8, Isaiah 45:22-23, Lam. 3:31-32, Hosea 14:4, Zeph. 3:8-9, Luke 2:10, Luke 9:55-56, Luke 23:34, John 12:32, John 12:47, John 17:2, Acts 3:20-21, Rom. 5:6; 18-20, Rom. 11:32-36, Rom.14:11, 1 Cor. 3:11-15, 1 Cor. 13:8, 1 Cor. 15:22-28, 2 Cor. 5:18-19, Eph. 4:5-6, Col. 1:15-20, Col. 3:11, 1 Tim. 2:5-6, Hebrews 8:11-12, James 2:13, 1 John 2:2, Rev. 5:13, Rev. 15:4

(2) http://endtimeheadlines.org/2017/04/pastor-unsure-if-wifes-miscarried-baby-is-in-heaven-claims-bible-is-silent/
http://www.christianpost.com/?vp=1

Further study:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2017/04/indeed-many-universalism-early-church/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/case-christian-universalism-non-universalist/

http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/EternityExplained.html

Rob Bell, “Love Wins”

Bradley Jersak, “A More Christlike God, A More Beautiful Gospel”

Julie Ferwerda, “Raising Hell: Christianity’s most controversial doctrine put under fire”

Derek Flood, “Disarming Scripture”

Eric A. Seibert, “Disturbing Divine Behavior, Troubling Old Testament Images of God”

Good Theology VS Bad

I spend a fair amount of time surfing, lurking and commenting on the various religious blogs online such as Patheos, Sojourners and miscellaneous personal blogs, and have been struck by a curious observation. The comments that seem to be the most stridently adversarial to inclusivity, acceptance and extending mercy seem to be the ones most adamant about either defending the inerrancy of Scripture or the “Holiness of God.” In other words, those who most clearly understand God’s “attributes” and that the Bible is “God’s Word,” are the most likely to exclude those individuals that are somehow “outside the box.” The result of such an attempt to “defend” God results in a theology that seems to be intent on excluding the most amount of people possible from the “Kingdom of God.”

What I think we have illustrated here is what I would call “bad theology.” Bad theology starts with trying to figure God out, define Him, take Him apart and see what He’s made of. This is the stuff of classic Reformed theology. Generally over-thinking things, taking God apart then remaking Him with our personality traits, just more “Zeus-like.” Do we categorize and ostracize people, so must God. Do we get angry, God’s anger must be terrible. We put troublemakers in jail, there must be a hell. The list goes on. We end up with a God that reflects our imperfect nature and a Gospel that is not “good news.”

This is the theology I grew up with and accepted for some 50 years. During those years I never heard anyone say “if you want to know what God is like, look at Christ.” God the Father was always treated separately from Christ. In my Christian education, College and Seminary, we scoured the Bible for descriptions of God. His Omnipotence, His Holiness, His Eternality, His Foreknowledge, His Righteousness, His Holiness, the different names of God: Elohim, El Shaddai, Jehovah Nissi, etc. These are all well and good but tend to obscure God, limit Him and put Him in a box of our understanding. Philip asked Jesus to “show them the Father.” (John 14:8-9) Jesus’ response was “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.” So the simple answer is that God is like Jesus, loving, forgiving, sacrificing and shares in our suffering, our humanity. That seems to be too simple for a lot of people, however, and therefore we turn to long-dead theologians to build fancy, intricate webs of theological certitudes for us. We end up with a theology that is “us vs. them,” the privileged “chosen vs. the Lost.”

Starting our theological framework with “proving” the inerrancy of Scripture, or attempting to describe God’s nature and defending His Holiness points us invariably in the wrong direction. When we start with Christ we end up hitting the mark. Looking to Christ and his cruciform life and death tells us not only what the Heavenly Father is like, but tells us what God expects of us: to copy Christ, to manifest his love, his mercy and his forgiveness. And how exactly do we copy Christ? The answer is found in Christ’s “kenosis,” his “emptying” of his privilege of deity in order to fully share our human suffering and predicament. We are called to lay aside our own self-serving interests and in the process be filled with the spirit of Christ so that we too may share in others needs and love one another. This is theology that is practical and prepares us for the coming Kingdom, the Age to come. In the coming months I will explore how Scripture itself reveals a Christlike God and how, ultimately Love wins and Wrath and condemnation will lose.

God bless.

InterVarsity Fellowship & The Thought Police

Last October InterVarsity Fellowship (not to be confused with InterVarsity Press), released a 20 page document further clarifying its 2012 statement of beliefs. In this new document IVF required staff to not only agree with the over-all mission statement and moral conduct of the organization, but to not hold any private reservations about the theological statements of IVF. Generally speaking, para-church organizations have adhered to broad doctrinal statements due to the nature of being inter-denominational, but this was not the case here.

By requiring its employees and volunteers to not only adhere to a certain code of conduct but to “think” a certain way as well, IVF forced a number of dedicated staff members to resign. These staff members were trusted friends and confidants of at risk young adults from the LGBTQ community. By doing so Gay teens and college age adults were left wondering if IVF cared about them, or understood their needs and fears. Although Gay marriage was the intended target the church will inadvertently suffer as a result as well. When the church cuts off dialogue and “faithful questioning” (Derek Flood) the result invariably is weakened, not strengthened faith.

A few thoughts on the subject:

First, egalitarian marriage is a Kingdom Principal. In Christ there is neither male nor female. Submission and headship, when applied as a male-dominant theme is neither Christ-like nor does it represent a one-size-fits-all plan for marriage. If it helps, think of Paul’s admonition on marriage as what a “good” Christian marriage looked like in the first century, but that times have changed. Egalitarian marriage has not only been resisted by a patriarchal society historically, but has continued to be vigorously attacked by the church even as Western society has moved on and recognized a woman’s equal worth.

Traditional marriage proponents rely as much on traditional and historical sexual mores as they do on Scripture and it is, indeed, those mores that influence their understanding of Scripture. Conservative Christianity has, for centuries, tried to replicate and keep alive the “household codes” of first century Christians.

Secondly, in building their argument against Same Sex Marriage, IVF, in their literature, refers repeatedly to Wesley Hill as a shining example of the Gay Christian’s “proper” lifestyle of celibacy. Having read “Washed and Waiting” I can assure you Mr. Hill is not necessarily representative of Gay Christians, nor does he deal exegetically with the texts. In fact, the over-all take away for me in reading his book that this poor man is dealing with a great deal of loneliness and unnecessary anguish heaped upon him by well meaning but ignorant Christians unaware of the toxicity their peculiar views on Scripture have on others.

In using Wesley Hill as an exemplary Gay Christian, IVF makes a mistake common to conservative Christianity, that of taking a specific person or circumstance and reapplying it to the whole. This over-simplification of people by assigning them to one group and making broad assumptions about them is why so many moderns refer to conservative Christians as bigoted.

Thirdly, IVF has lost the ability to deal with the emotional and spiritual needs of LGBT youth in a pastoral manner, instead treating these individuals as a theological problem that needs to be fixed. Ultimately this dehumanizes, demoralizes and cuts off communication with a group of individuals who have historically been demonized by Christians.

Lastly, IVF is seeking unity through forced conformity, a mistake the church has made for centuries. This is by far, I believe, the most damaging precedent set here for IVF. Historically the reason Protestants split from Catholicism is that the Catholic Church was unable to allow itself to be questioned. By attempting to control even the thoughts of its staff members, IVF has effectively stifled any opportunity for change, or as Derek Flood says, “unquestioned obedience” takes precedence. This may work well if we were building an army of clones, but when dialogue is stifled in the church it is hard to see how our individual gifts can be used. We need to be able to agree to disagree, yet come together for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom. There is unity in diversity, something that IVF seems to have misunderstood.

Although, historically, IVF has taken a broad non-denominational stance on things like women in leadership, recognizing that various denominations that have a high-view of Scripture can differ significantly from each other, on same sex marriage they have made the decision to draw a line in the sand. This reflects the new test of orthodoxy within the far Right of Evangelicalism. It is my hope, that, in time IVF will reconsider its decision and allow more diversity of thought within its ranks so that it may present a more beautiful Gospel.
http://time.com/4521944/intervarsity-fellowship-gay-marriage/

http://religionnews.com/2016/10/11/intervarsity-authors-and-alumni-protest-policy-terminating-employees-who-support-gay-marriage/

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/october-web-only/intervarsity-asks-staff-to-choose-stance-on-sexuality.html

https://sojo.net/articles/roots-intervarsitys-line-sand-homosexuality
Justin Lee’s response to the IVF decision and critique of its “inconsistency problem” with the LGBT community:

Freedom vs. Love: When Freedom Prevents Us From Loving

I am reading Bradley Jersak’s “A More Christlike God, A More Beautiful Gospel” (https://www.amazon.com/More-Christlike-God-Beautiful-Gospel/dp/1889973165). In chapter three he contrasts two competing values in Western Culture: “freedom” and “goodness.” He makes the point that of the two, one will always be dominant over the other. Where we have recently seen this most dramatically portrayed in America is in the flack over building a border wall, Muslim immigration and in the so-called attacks on “religious freedom.”

In each of these three cases the safety of our personal freedoms and “rights” is the overriding principal governing protest and the push for legal protections. And in each circumstance someone else’s situation is negatively affected by the insistence on safeguarding our own personal freedoms.

As Jersak puts it, “We live in a culture that so totalizes freedom that anyone who presents an obstacle or becomes a hindrance to what I want is attacking my freedom. I will perceive intrusions on my way of life as the enemy, whether it is a family member, a foreign militant or a government regulator…impositions on my freedom are considered offensive and immoral–attacks–because my personal autonomy (self-rule) comes first.”
…”On the other hand, Christ commands us to love our enemies and to overcome evil with good. He calls us to make love our first allegiance–and his love frees us to do so. Freedom in Christ, ironically, is freedom from the tyranny of our own paranoia-producing self-will and fear-driven self-preservation, which we’ve tragically mislabeled ‘freedom.'” (P. 51)

When self-preservation and personal liberties are promoted by the church as a moral imperative, the result is a Gospel that ceases to be “good-news,” and the church loses it’s “witness” to the Love, Grace and Mercy of God. Extreme examples of this can be seen in the proposal to allow “open carry” on the Liberty University campus and the desire to build a shooting range there. Another sad example can be found in the recent un-Christlike comments of a well-known evangelist towards Muslim refugees fleeing the horrors of war in Syria and the bigoted and false statements made about transgender people by the Right in an attempt to deny safe bathrooms to them.

These are examples of how the church can slip into a self-serving frame of mind and lose sight of serving others first. In most of the recent conversations I have had with conservative Christians they have invariably supported blocking refugees, mass deportations and legislation against Gays on the grounds of preserving our freedoms as Americans and Christians. The argument goes something like this: “the government’s job is to protect us, the church’s job is to minister to others. The government has no business doing the church’s job.” While there may be some truth in that, the church on the Right, unfortunately, has not counteracted with an attitude of selfless love, but has applauded and encouraged self-centered actions by both church and state. In reality, the grasping for “freedom” becomes a bondage that hinders the true freedom we have in Christ to serve others.

Oddly enough, the insistence on my rights taking precedence over other’s rights is almost always couched in terms of “majority” or ‘who’s in control’ rights. Again the over-emphasized concern with majority freedoms at the cost of marginalized individual rights becomes a hallmark of a selfish church. The recent recension of transgender rights by the current administration was hailed as a triumph for the “privacy rights of all of the students who attend their schools” (Kerri Kupec, Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group). As can be seen, the “freedoms” referred to are not truly freedoms for “all” but freedoms for those who are currently in control.

The church then becomes merely a defender of the status quo rather than a defender of the helpless and disadvantaged. Again, an odd development considering the Evangelical insistence to be seen as a disadvantaged minority, at odds with current society. At the center of this victim mentality is a core resistance to be inconvenienced in any way by the needs of others who are “different” than the traditional status quo, seeing it’s own “minority” needs taking precedence over other’s minority needs, all of which underscores the Right’s weaknesses in the areas of empathy and mercy.

While this can be understood from a political standpoint, it is hard to find justification for it among Christians. So what is the practical upshot of all this? As American Christians how do we wish our government to be perceived? Is it to be generous or does America hoard it’s resources, keeping them to ourselves? Do we expect America to only help others only when it is beneficial to her? Does the church “act magnanimous” while expecting the government to do the “dirty work” of discrimination and marginalization? A lot depends on whether we are selfish or selfless Christians and whether we see America as self-serving or not.

How can the church do it’s job of defending the helpless and those on the outskirts? For one, the church can step back from it’s current support for political actions that marginalize women, minorities and immigrants, remembering that it was once a persecuted minority and in areas of the world it still is. Political action should never simply be in terms of status quo or what makes us feel “comfortable.” Likewise, our fears should not be a primary focus on denying others help when they desperately need it. Ways to adequately meet the needs of the disenfranchised while remaining practical should be sought out. Absolute honest self-assessment needs to take place among America Christians to weed out those attitudes that are based on fear or loss of control.

In conclusion, it would be helpful to remember that Christ did not put his needs above others but calls us to a life where we “lay down our lives” for the benefit of others, family, friends, neighbors and even enemies (1 John 3:16, Mark 12:31, Matt. 5:44). The church cannot fail when it follows the example of Christ, the head of the church.